Latin America weighs odds of claiming the next pope
If the Vatican chose the next pope based on demographics, there would be a clear regional frontrunner. Forty-two percent of the worldâs Catholics live in Latin America, and the surprise resignation of Pope Benedict XVI on Monday could be an opportunity for the Holy See to elect its first non-European pope.
Media organizations in several Latin American countries are focusing their attention on possible home-grown candidates. Yet, as this article by my colleagues at Reuters notes, the most likely candidates for the papacy from Latin America are from Brazil and Argentina:
âIf the next conclave really is Latin America’s turn, the leading candidates there seem to be Odilo Scherer, archbishop of the huge diocese of SĂŁo Paolo, or the Italian-Argentine Leonardo Sandri, now heading the Vatican department for Eastern Churches.â
Hereâs what the local media in Brazil and Argentina are saying about Scherer and Sandri.
Sergio Rubin, religion editor for the Argentinian newspaper ClarĂn, points out that Catholicism in Europe is âpractically retreatingâ while it flourishes in Latin America and Africa (translation mine). Rubin suggests Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio and Sandri as possible candidates from Argentina, but notes that 76-year-old Bergoglio has physical limitations that could interfere with his work.Â Sandri was âthe voice of Pope John Paul II when he passed away,â Rubin writes. Rubin also thinks heâs physically up to snuff: âHeâs in good health and an ideal age: 70 years old.â (Translations mine).
However, Sandri’s current position may not impress the Vatican.
â[Sandri] is a ‘transatlantic’ figure born in Buenos Aires to Italian parents… But he has no pastoral experience and his job overseeing eastern churches is not a power position in Rome,âÂ theÂ Reuters reportÂ notes.
However, Sandri once held a high-ranking post at the Vatican. âSandri is known for having had the strategic post of Substitute for General Affairs in the Secretariat of State, the second most important role after Pope John Paul II,â Elisabetta PiquĂ© writes for La Nacion (my translation). âTherefore he was the right-hand man to the influential ex-Cardinal Secretary and current dean of the College of Cardinals, Cardinal Angelo Sodano.â
However, with approximatelyÂ 125 million Catholics,Â it is Argentina’s neighbor to the north Brazil that boasts the biggest Catholic population in the world.Â In Brazil, the 63-year-old Scherer appears to be the best bet.
According to theÂ Wall Street Journal,Â as news of the Popeâs resignation swept through Carnival celebrations, the big question on revelersâ minds was whether the next Pope would be Brazilian.
While Brazilâs leading news agency AgĂȘncia EstadoÂ pegs the Italian Cardinal Angelo Scola as the most likely new Pope, the agency says although Scherer âis not considered a favorite, his election would not be a surpriseâ (my translation).
BBC Brazil notesÂ that Odilo is theÂ descendantÂ of German immigrants and considered a moderate.Â AgĂȘncia EstadoÂ notes Scherer has more sway in Rome, where he studied and worked for seven years.
The WSJ reports that of Brazilâs nine cardinals, only five are under 80 years old, and therefore eligible to participate in the conclave. However, the daily newspaper Jornal do Brasil suggestsÂ Cardinal Dom Orani TempestaÂ could be chosen as a sixth cardinal in time to help elect Pope Benedictâs successor.
The cardinals could choose a new pope as soon as March 24.
PHOTO: Separate file photos of Roman Catholic clergy from Latin America cited as being possible candidates to be the next Pope, (L-R) Brazilian cardinal Joao Braz de Aviz, Sao Paulo Archbishop Odilo Scherer, and Argentine cardinal Leonardo Sandri, taken in Rome between 2007 and 2012. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi